The following is a response to “This Progressive Doesn’t Need Your Lectures” by syndicated columnist Connie Schultz (National Memo, February 4, 2016).
I wish I had learned about you under circumstances other than a heated Democratic primary election for president. I suspect we would probably agree on most issues.
But I cannot stand by and read your continued criticisms of the Bernie Sanders campaign and his supporters. You say they don’t understand you. Well, you clearly do not understand them.
In your latest column, you tell Sanders supporters who say they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton that they can’t call themselves progressives.
Here’s the thing: Many of them don’t. Some of Sanders’ supporters are not even Democrats. Sanders is attracting a broad cross-section of supporters including Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans. Right or wrong, some of them don’t like Hillary and feel no need to support the Democratic Party. They joined the campaign because they support Bernie.
One reason people from so many different walks of political life like Bernie is that he is consistent. He has been saying the same thing for 30 years. Another reason is that he is not in this for himself – he genuinely has the best interest of ordinary Americans at heart.
But most important, in a system that has been corrupted at every turn by corporate power and big money politics, Sanders does not have a SuperPAC and is not taking money from billionaires. His campaign is completely funded by small donations from millions of ordinary Americans.
Is it important where campaign donations come from? You said on your Facebook page that you are “not uncomfortable with Hillary's Clinton's Wall Street donations” because you can’t “connect the dots between dollars donated and legislation the candidate supports after election.”
Surely you understand that such an obvious quid pro quo would be extremely difficult to prove. At the very least our campaign finance system has the appearance of a conflict of interest. Former President Jimmy Carter called it “legalized bribery,” while Sen. Elizabeth Warren recalled a time when campaign donations did appear to change Secretary Clinton’s vote.
To be fair, Hillary Clinton is certainly not the only candidate to face such questions about conflict of interest. This is how our current campaign finance system works, and politicians across the board are trying to work within it. But that doesn’t make it right.
Perhaps money doesn’t buy votes outright. But what it does buy is access – access that the Democratic National Committee has already promised to sell to the highest bidder at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
This is the kind of access ordinary citizens will never have -- and the result is they are not heard. Academic research shows that the American political system has become so unequal that we now live in an oligarcy. Is it any wonder Americans of all political persuasions are outraged?
Here’s another thing. It doesn’t help to opine that female Sanders supporters “disappoint” you while characterizing male Sanders supporters as “young white men who were still braying for their blankies when I started getting paid to give my opinion.”
First, if Clinton wins the nomination, she is going to need as much support as she can get. Do you really think such condescension will help win anyone over? If you want Sanders supporters to support Clinton, how is such sarcasm going to earn their votes?
More to the point, young people support Sanders over Clinton 84 to 14 percent. Have you thought about why that might be – what issues young people face that might lead them to make this choice?
Young people today face crippling student loan debt that did not exist when you and I went to college. They must have a college degree to get a job, yet when they get out with tens of thousands, maybe even six figures in debt, they face a terrible job market -- due to an economy that continues not to recover because of high levels of inequality in which most of the wealth goes to the very top.
Young people are also inheriting a planet whose environment has been pushed to the brink of collapse. Ocean acidification threatens the plankton that make up the base of the world’s food chain. Species are going extinct 1000 times faster than normal. Climate change is creating millions of environmental refugees, hampering our ability to feed ourselves, and unleashing new viruses.
This is the future young people have to face. Is it any wonder they are not doing basic things like getting married, buying a house, or starting a family? Every environmental and economic indicator we have is telling us that we must make major change. Millennials’ choice of Bernie Sanders for president makes perfect sense, and boomer-age Democrats simply have to stop bashing them for it.
Young people are also critical to the future of the Democratic Party. The party would be much better served if its leaders could figure out how to bring young Sanders supporters into the fold rather than ignoring them, silencing them, mocking them, or claiming their priorities will “never, ever” happen.
One point you make throughout your writing is that your generation of women has faced untold amounts of blatant sexism. I get that. I’m glad that at age 17 you dumped a steaming pile of pasta into the lap of that banker who tried to feel you up. He completely deserved it.
I also get that women like Hillary Clinton have faced no end of right-wing vitriol. I grew up in Arkansas when her husband was elected governor and saw it for myself. I also saw it 20 years later when as national news editor at a daily newspaper I ran stories covering her as first lady.
But: Sexism is not the only issue that matters. It is one of your main issues, and it is important. But other issues are also important. What bothers me so much about your ongoing defense of yourself through Hillary Clinton is that you do not seem to care about anyone or anything else.
Please: Stop boomersplaining and start listening. Smug columns like the one you just published may be satisfying to write, but they do nothing to increase understanding or communication. They do not serve the public interest, or even the long-term interest of the Democratic Party.
One thing we do agree on is that there is a lot at stake. To the issues you list – women’s rights, racial justice, and health care – I would add destabilization of the environment unless we act quickly to address climate change. I believe Sanders is as strong or a stronger candidate in all these areas.
I am a lifelong Democrat, and in the general election I will vote for the Democratic nominee regardless of which candidate it is. We have only a short window of time to act on climate change, and if a climate change-denying Republican were to get into the White House, that would literally increase the chances of the extinction for most species on the planet, including humans.
But during the primary, I am going to work my heart out to elect Sanders. His candidacy has not been compromised by millions of dollars from fossil fuel, agribusiness, pharmaceutical, health insurance, and Wall Street corporations. No matter how admirable a person Hillary Clinton is, if she is elected president through their money, they are going to expect access if not votes.
The only people Sanders will owe if elected are the ordinary Americans who funded his campaign with 3.5 million donations (and counting) of $27 each. And those are the people who most deserve to be heard.